While Mojo Magazine ranked the song 13th greatest song of all time, when first released it only reached No. 39 on the US charts in 1966. Treated as the A-side across Europe, it was a success, scoring No. 2 in the UK, and in national charts cited contemporarily by Billboard, No. 3 in Ireland, No. 4 in Holland and Belgium, No. 6 in Norway, No. 22 in Germany; and No. 2 in Australia. The song “God Only Knows” is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
It was voted no. 25 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the second of seven Beach Boys’ songs to feature (the first being “Good Vibrations” at No.6). The song was also recognized by Pitchfork Media as the number one “greatest song of the 1960s” in their feature on the 200 Best Songs of the 1960s. In a poll on the MTV station, Vh1, it was placed No. 28 on the U.K’s Nation’s Favourite Lyric. It was voted by the Listeners of BBC Radio 2 as one of the three songs that changes people’s lives.
Paul McCartney has called it his favorite song of all time. In an interview with David Leaf in 1990 he stated, “It’s a really, really great song — it’s a big favorite of mine. I was asked recently to give my top 10 favorite songs for a Japanese radio station … I didn’t think long and hard on it but I popped that [God Only Knows] on the top of my list. It’s very deep. Very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. There are certain songs that just hit home with me, and they’re the strangest collection of songs … but that is high on the list, I must say … God Only Knows’ ‘ lyrics are great. Those do it to me every time.” Speaking on a special Radio 1 show to mark the British station’s 40th anniversary, McCartney said “‘God Only Knows’ is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It’s really just a love song, but it’s brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian. I’ve actually performed it with him and I’m afraid to say that during the sound check I broke down. It was just too much to stand there singing this song that does my head in and to stand there singing it with Brian.”
Bono said in October 2006 during Brian Wilson’s induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame that “the string arrangement on ‘God Only Knows’ is fact and proof of angels”. Jimmy Webb, an American popular music composer, has also stated his love for the song, stating, “I love ‘God Only Knows’ and its bow to the baroque that goes all the way back to 1740 and J.S. Bach. It represents the whole tradition of liturgical music that I feel is a spiritual part of Brian’s music. And Carl’s singing is pretty much at its pinnacle — as good as it ever got.” In a 2003 solo concert in Tel Aviv, Steven Wilson, frontman of Porcupine Tree, declared “God Only Knows” as his favorite song of all time. On the Insurgentes listening party that took place in Mexico City in 2009, Steven Wilson said it was a perfect song. Simon Neil of Scottish band Biffy Clyro has the lyrics “God only knows what I’d be without you” tattooed across his chest.